"It's like a Little Secret World:" the Experience of Military Families with a Child with ASD

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
J. M. Davis1 and E. H. Finke2, (1)Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, (2)Communication Sciences and Disorders, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Background: Military families are an underrepresented group in the ASD literature, despite the number of military dependents with a diagnosis of ASD reaching approximately 23,500 (Tricare, 2011). Although there have been no peer-reviewed studies about military and ASD related topics to date, some reports and parent guidelines from the Department of Defense (DOD) have outlined some possible challenges military families with a child with ASD may experience (e.g., OAR, 2010; DOD, 2011a; National Council on Disability, 2011).  These documents indicate issues such as greater emotional reactions, reduced continuity of care, changes in service eligibility across state boundaries, and access to appropriate educational programming as potential effects for children with ASD and their families as a result of military separation and relocation (OAR, 2010; National Council on Disability, 2011).  Given the unique challenges families encounter with having a child with ASD and the unique stressors for military families, military families who also have a child with ASD may have experiences that differ from either group.

Objectives: To determine the therapeutic experience of military families with a child with ASD

Methods: This study used a qualitative design with semi-structured interviews.  Since research on military families with a child with ASD is very limited, a qualitative methodology is needed to understand and describe their experiences so appropriate next steps can be implemented. Qualitative methodologies are used when information about a topic is limited (Morse & Field, 1995) and when the purpose of the study is to describe experiences by generating themes, identifying trends, and constructing theories based on the perception of events (Meline, 2006).  The interview questions were generated through a review of the literature on the diagnostic and treatment process for families of children with disabilities and research on military families.  The interviews were conducted via online video calling programs (e.g., Skype) and lasted approximately one hour.  Each interview was audio recorded. The completed interviews were transcribed verbatim, with all identifying information removed, and were analyzed using a six step process adapted from grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006; Charmaz & Henwood, 2008) and focus group analysis techniques (McNaughton, Light, & Groszyk, 2001; Vaughn et al., 1996).  The purpose of the analysis process was to determine themes and subthemes common across the participants. Point-by-point reliability and Cohen’s kappa were calculated to be 89% and .86, respectively.

Results: Data analysis is currently on-going, but preliminary results suggest military families experience barriers, supports, negative and positive impacts related to therapeutic programming for their child with ASD.

Conclusions: Data analysis is currently on-going, but conclusions may impact clinical service providers, military programming and providers, and laws and policies.

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